~2016 – Fort McMurray WildFires_6.2

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2016 Fort McMurray wildfire


Fort McMurray residents evacuating along Highway 63 as the fire encroaches on the area.

Landscape view of wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (cropped).jpg

Location: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada

Date(s): May 1, 2016 – present (MDT)
Burned area: 229,000 hectares (570,000 acres)
destroyed : 2,400 (as of May 9)
Injuries: 0[3]
Fatalities :0 (direct)
2 (indirect)

On May 1, 2016, a wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. On May 3, it swept through the community, destroying more than 2,400 homes and buildings and forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history.[5] The fire continues to spread across northeast Alberta, and has impacted Canada’s oil sand operations.[6] The wildfire may become the costliest disaster in Canadian history.[7]

Progression of fire:
The wildfire burning near Fort McMurray on May 1, 2016

A local state of emergency was initially declared May 1 at 9:57 p.m. (03:57 UTC May 2) with the Centennial Trailer Park and the neighbourhoods of Prairie Creek and Gregoire under a mandatory evacuation.[8][9] The evacuation orders for the two neighbourhoods were reduced to a voluntary stay-in-place order by the night of May 2 as the fire moved southwest and away from the area.[10][11] However, the mandatory evacuation order was reinstated and expanded to 12 neighbourhoods on May 3 at 5:00 p.m. (23:00 UTC),[12] and to the entirety of Fort McMurray by 6:49 p.m. (00:49 UTC May 4).[5][13] A further order covering the nearby communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Fort McMurray First Nation was issued at 9:50 p.m. on May 4 (03:50 UTC May 5).[14] It has been reported that 88,000 people were successfully evacuated, with no reported fatalities or injuries;[3] however, two people were killed in a vehicular collision during the evacuation.[4]

On May 4, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported the communities of Beacon Hill, Abasand and Waterways had suffered “serious loss”.[15] The Government of Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency, and stated that 1,600 buildings had been destroyed by the fires.[16] It was also estimated that 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land had been burned.[17] Evacuees who travelled north of Fort McMurray were also advised to stay where they were, and not to come south on Highway 63 as the fire was still burning out of control.[15] A boil-water advisory was issued for the entire area just after 11 a.m. (17:00 UTC).[16] At 4:05 p.m. (22:05 UTC) the fire crossed Highway 63 at Highway 69, south of the city, and threatened the international airport, which had suspended commercial operations earlier in the day.[15][18] The fire also forced the re-location of the Regional Emergency Operations Centre, which was originally in the vicinity of the airport.[19] On May 4, the fire was found to be producing lightning and pyrocumulus clouds due to its heat and large size, which added to the risk of more fires.[20] The fires have become so large that the conflagration has begun creating its own weather, in the form of wind influxes and lightning, causing it to be labelled as a firestorm.[21]


Satellite imagery of the burn scar left by the wildfire on May 4, 2016

The fire continued to spread south on May 5 across 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) and forcing additional evacuations in the communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and the Fort McMurray First Nation. These communities had accepted over 8,000 people during the initial evacuations.[17][19][22] The Government of Alberta announced a plan to airlift approximately 8,000 of 25,000 people who had evacuated to oil sands work camps north of Fort McMurray, with assistance from a Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules aircraft, and other planes owned by energy companies operating in the oil sands. Government officials would also examine the potential for evacuations via Highway 63 during a flyover.[17] 1,100 personnel, 45 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were being employed to fight the fire.[22]

On May 6, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began leading convoys to move 1,500 vehicles from oil sand work camps north of Fort McMurray, south along Highway 63 to Edmonton.[23] The fire continued to grow out of control, spreading to 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) by May 6,[23][24] and 156,000 hectares (390,000 acres) by May 7.[25] As the fire grew to the northeast, the community of Fort McKay, which hosted 5,000 evacuees from Fort McMurray, was itself put under an evacuation notice. The fire was anticipated to double in size, and reach the Saskatchewan border to the east.[26][27] The wildfire is expected to take months to contain and extinguish.[28]

Response and aid Edit
File:Premier talks Fort McMurray at Western Premiers’ Conference kick-off.webmPlay media
B.C. government reply
The Government of Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency for Fort McMurray and issued a formal request for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces.[29][30] The government and the Department of National Defence signed a memorandum of understanding on May 4, detailing required assistance and use of helicopters for rescue operations.[5] Shortly after, a CC-130 Hercules departed CFB Trenton and helicopters were dispatched to the affected area.[31] Alberta also requested assistance from the Government of Ontario, and Ontario committed to sending 100 firefighters and 19 supervisory staff, coordinated through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.[5] Other provinces across the country have also offered support.[31] On May 5, four CL-415 water bombers from Quebec’s SOPFEU (fr) took off from the province to aid in the firefighting effort.[32]

The United States, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Russia, and Israel offered international assistance in battling the fire, though the offers were turned down by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said they were unnecessary.[33][34]

The Alberta government is providing an initial $1,250 per adult and $500 per dependent to cover living expenses for those who have evacuated.[35] On May 4, the provincial government committed to match donations made to the Canadian Red Cross, as well as to donate an additional $2 million as seed money;[36] the federal government pledged to match all donations to the Canadian Red Cross the next day,[17] with a deadline set to May 31. As of May 9, $54 million has been donated to the Red Cross, not including matching government contributions.[37]

On May 4, Public Safety Canada activated the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, thus providing for the charitable and humanitarian re-tasking of the diverse satellite assets of fifteen space agencies, etc.[38]

Statistics Canada officially announced suspension of enumeration activities for the 2016 Census in the Fort McMurray area on May 5. Alternative means to collect data from its residents will be determined at a later date.[39]

Cause and contributing factors :

Officials have currently not determined the cause of the fire, but have stated its starting point was a remote area 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Fort McMurray.[17]

During the start of the fire, an unusually hot, dry air mass was in place over Northern Alberta, which brought record-setting temperatures to Fort McMurray. On May 3, the temperature climbed to 32.8 °C (91 °F),[40] accompanied by relative humidity as low as 12%.[41] The situation intensified on May 4 when temperatures reached 31.9 °C (89 °F)[40] and winds gusted to 72 km/h (45 mph).[42] This significantly contributed to the fire’s rapid growth.[5] The winter preceding the fires was drier than usual, leaving a paltry snowpack, which melted quickly. Combined with the high temperatures, this created a “perfect storm” of conditions for an explosive wildfire.[43][44]

Controversy arose over the discussion that global warming is among the factors causing the fire, particularly given the role that Fort McMurray plays in Alberta’s oil sands industry. Some have called it “insensitive” to discuss climate change in such a time, while others have argued that this crisis makes it “more important” to talk about a correlation between human-influenced climate change and wildfires.[45] Canada’s politicians and scientists have both cautioned that individual fires cannot specifically be linked to climate change, but agree that it is part of a general trend of more intense wildfires.[46]

Impacts :




Satellite images of the fire at 1. day (May 3, 2016), 2.overnight (May 5, 2016), and 3. the area the smoke is affecting (fire in yellow circle).


Aerial view


Communities and infrastructure

Super 8 motel destroyed by the fire
Initial estimates from May 4 indicated that 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray were destroyed. Firefighters worked through May 6 and 7 to hold the line and protect the downtown and remaining homes in Fort McMurray. Damages occurred to the town’s power grid.[47] On May 9, Premier Notley stated that 2,400 structures were estimated to be lost, but about 85 to 90 percent of the city was undamaged.[48]

As of 11:55 a.m. MDT on May 6, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo had reported the following damage to Fort McMurray’s neighbourhoods and nearby communities:[15]

Anzac – 12 structures lost in the hamlet approximately 36 km (22 mi) to the southeast
Airport – minor damage to outer structures, primary infrastructures intact
Abasand – 50 percent loss of homes
Beacon Hill – 70 percent loss of homes
Dickinsfield – Two houses lost
Downtown – One house lost
Draper – Damage under assessment in this community adjacent to Fort McMurray
Grayling Terrace – Four houses lost and six damaged
Gregoire – Unaffected
North Parsons – Unfinished school lost
Saline Creek – Unaffected
Saprae Creek – approximately 30 percent of this hamlet, 11 km (6.8 mi) to the east, has experienced significant damage
Stone Creek – active fire zone
Timberlea – 13 trailers lost
Blackburn Drive – Three structure fires
Walnut Crescent – approximately 15 structure fires
Thickwood – One house lost
Waterways – 90 percent loss of homes
Wood Buffalo – Estimated 30 houses lost
Oil sands operations
The wildfire has also halted oil sands production at facilities north of Fort McMurray, to which many residents have evacuated. Shell Canada has shut down output at its Albian Sands mining operation, located about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The company stated its priority was to get employees and their families out of the region, and provide capacity at its work camp for some of the evacuees. Shell also provided its landing strip to fly employees and their families to Calgary or Edmonton and has provided two teams to support firefighting efforts in the area.[49]

Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada have also scaled back operations. Suncor’s Millennium and North Steepbank mines are two of the largest and oldest oilsands mining operations in the Fort McMurray area, and Syncrude’s Mildred Lake oilsands mine is located 35 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The companies have accommodated another 2,000 evacuees each at their work camps.[49] On May 7, Syncrude shut down all site and processing operations, removing 4,800 employees from the area. A quarter of Canada’s oil production, equal to approximately one million barrels of oil a day, was halted as a result of the fire.[6]

Initial insurance payouts are estimated to total as much as CAN$9 billion if the entire community has to be rebuilt. This would make it the most expensive disaster in Canadian history, surpassing the 1998 ice storms in Quebec ($1.9 billion) and the 2013 Alberta floods ($1.8 billion). The 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, which destroyed one-third of the Town of Slave Lake, cost approximately $750 million and was the most expensive fire-related disaster in Canadian history. The larger damage estimates are a result of Fort McMurray being 10 times the size of Slave Lake.[7] A further estimate based on current damage pegs the insurance payouts at $2.6–4.7 billion.[50]

Last edited 4 hours ago by Bgwhite

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